Just when I thought that my life was beginning to settle down a bit after my tumultuous years with Paul, things started getting even crazier. Paul was now living with one of our old friends whom he’d had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she and Justin didn’t get along, and he soon moved in with us. So much for my hopes that he and his dad would finally figure out a sustainable relationship. Understandably, our fourteen-year-old was angry about many things, my new relationship, his dad’s relationship and leftovers from all of the fighting he’d heard over the years. Dick and I were living in The Free School neighborhood. I was still working there at first, and Austin was still a student there. This new apartment was very convenient and, although it was small, it was comfortable and affordable. It was in the South End of Albany, and Justin started running around with the neighborhood kids who were also troubled. He had gotten caught smoking pot with some friends when he should have been in school and was suspended for a while. He hated school and kept getting into trouble, so I agreed to let him homeschool. My kids were smart and my own experience in school had been such a disaster, I hoped he would thrive by being on his own. Unfortunately, all he wanted to do was read about gangsters. I did manage to get him to do more than that, but I was worried about the direction he was going in.
He decided to apprentice at The Free School and loved it. The students liked him, and he was thriving on being in that leadership role. But in the evenings, he was out cruising around in the ghetto. Then, one night, he and a friend decided to break into the school. They stole a bunch of AV equipment, VCRs and the like. They brought them up to the roof of one of the buildings and wrote a note apologizing for the theft, but it was too late. They got arrested and hauled off to jail. It turned out that all of the equipment was broken, and the school decided not to press charges. However, the DA decided to prosecute anyway, probably because Justin’s partner in crime was a black teen. He ended up spending a little time in jail before we could post bail. He was convicted of the crime, put on probation, had to pay a fine and do community service. But he continued to flounder. Soon, Dick noticed that his box of change seemed to be reduced, and the loose change in his locked car was disappearing. He set a few James Bond type traps, like a hair across the crack, on his drawer to prove there was thieving going on. The hair was never disturbed, and the car was always locked, but the money kept disappearing. It was making us crazy. Many years later, I found out that Justin was wise to the hair and just replaced it every time he went into the drawer. He didn’t tell me how he got into the car, and I didn’t ask.
Understandably, after the theft, my relationship with the other teachers and Free School community changed. Although other kids in the community had stolen things from time to time, Justin was made the scapegoat. I suppose it was because I always kept myself a little removed from the cultish nature that I perceived in the community, always being a bit of an outsider. Justin lost his full-time babysitting job because the woman he worked for lived in a Free School apartment. Then, I was told that Justin was not allowed to live in the apartment we were renting from The Free School. I responded with a reminder of the illegality of that decree and started looking for another place. We soon moved to The Mariner’s House on South Pearl Street. Although I understood their feelings, after working at the school for a total of 12 years and all of my children going to school there, I felt betrayed and hurt. That betrayal colored my relationships with these friends for many years.
The Mariner’s House was a mansion built in the early 1800s located two doors south of Second Avenue. I had been visiting there and going to parties for years while various friends rented it. There were five bedrooms upstairs, four bathrooms, one with a shower and tub, one with a shower and two half baths. Downstairs, there was a double living room, an office space, an eat-in kitchen, dining room which became our music room, an unheated sunroom and an extra wing with three rooms and the bathroom with the shower. There was also a large fenced in yard that extended on all four sides of the house and off-street parking for up to three vehicles. The rent was $700 a month. This was more than we could afford and bigger than we needed for the three of us, so we decided to live communally. We moved in with a friend and her young daughter. We had all lived communally before, so we set up rules for the household. There was no arguing in the common areas, everyone had their own set of dishes in their assigned cabinet with a dish pan to put dirty dishes into while waiting to be washed and we had our own shelves in the refrigerator. Chores were scheduled and communal meals were optional and occasional.
Once we settled into our new place, I started hosting weekly music jams. Every Friday, we had a room full of people playing a variety of instruments. Some of them were long time players, others were beginners, and they were all ages. I insisted that we go around the circle with each person responsible for choosing a song. They could either lead a song or just play one for us. I had been in many situations before where the musicians were either shy or hogged the show. As one of the shy musicians, I was determined that, at my jams, everyone would have an equal opportunity. The newcomers were allowed one pass, but the next time it came around, they were required to pick a song. That was really the only rule. They could even choose something for someone else to lead, but they had to choose something. I also frequently counseled folks about playing at a reasonable volume so that everyone could be heard. That was probably the hardest part. Everyone was welcome and encouraged. The beginners often placed themselves outside of the circle so that they could stumble without distracting the other players, eventually making their way into the center as they improved. Eventually, word got around, and I was meeting new people who heard about it via word-of-mouth. It was wildly popular.
One Friday night, there was a knock on the door. It was someone new with a guitar in hand. We invited him in, and he stood in the kitchen looking around before finally saying, “I think I know this house. I think it’s the house my mother ran.” He was Mike Milks, who has since passed on. His mother, Eunice Milks ran The Mariners House for many years. It was a place for foreign sailors to stay while their ship was docked at the port. She would help them with any paperwork they had such as visas or help them make phone calls home to their families. This project came about because she had found out that the sailors staying on their ship would take their pay and go to the local tavern for a night on the town. The longshoremen had a deal with the taxis to drop the sailors off at the entrance to the port at the end of the night rather than taking them all the way to the ships. When the sailors stumbled their way back, they would be rolled, losing all of their money, and sometimes even their passports and visas. Eunice decided to take this project on as a missionary work and began bringing them to her home in Guilderland until her husband put his foot down. She finally found the house on South Pearl Street and housed them there. Mike brought her to one of our summer parties and, when she died, he brought me photos from her time there. We all loved hearing the history of our home.
Many people came and went during our time there. We even had my former son-in-law and grandson living with us for a while. I found hidden overgrown gardens and put in my own gardens as I do everywhere I live. We had a big tire swing in the climbing tree just outside the back door and a rope swing in the side yard. Dick even built a tree house in one corner with electricity running to it. We had multiple parties, including an annual New Year’s Eve party, which also grew through word-of-mouth. When we finally decided we’d had enough strangers coming to that party, we shut it down and had people come knock on the door on New Year’s Eve for two years afterwards. Sitting here thinking about it now, I count at least nine people who rented from us. We lived there for nine years until the deterioration of the neighborhood and the refusal of the landlord to fix the deterioration of the house finally drove us out. I loved that house and have a lot of great memories from that time. But like with all good things, there always seem to be other factors that get in the way. Little did we know when moving in that Dick would run into health issues and some old legal trouble with his child support payments. And now, we were living right in the gut of the ghetto with all of its bad influences on my already criminal-leaning son.
Once I settled into the apartment I was subletting, I started inviting friends over to jam. I was no longer living with a musician and was missing that sharing of music. I had also booked a gig for a month and a half away, knowing that although I was just learning to play the guitar, I needed to get out there and keep gigging. I enlisted the help of various friends and figured I would depend on my voice to get me through. General Eclectic had ended, but we were trying to start up a new band, One Psy Fits All. Paul was a master of puns and loved the potential plays on words that this new name offered. Bob continued to play with us, and we added new personnel. Paul was not encouraging me to learn an instrument and had refused to teach me anything. He also refused to write the chords for our originals. I’d always known he was jealous, but I never realized the extent of it. I decided to keep writing new songs and plugged away at guitar. Unfortunately, I never took it seriously enough. I always looked at guitar as just a means to an end. I just needed accompaniment for my voice.
Shortly after I moved to Albany, my grandson was born. Jes had a tough labor and delivery and ended up with a C-section. She didn’t want me there for the birth, so I drove out with Austin a few days later. They were staying at a lake house owned by Jack’s family. I was glad that she was in a better environment with enough room for me to stay with them. I fell in love with Taran immediately. He was a fussy baby though and demanded a lot of attention. Also, I was embarking on a new life as a single parent of a three-year-old. I now understood fully what my mom had gone through when becoming a grandmother. Having followed in my mother’s footsteps, there was more than a decade between my first round of children and the next. I couldn’t stay in Michigan for long. I had to get back to work and my new life. Also, as I’ve said before, Jes and I struggled with our relationship. She thought I was being bossy and interfering in their life while I felt as though I was only trying to help. I went back home feeling sad and a little lonely. It was hard to believe that I was a grandmother at forty years old with a three-year old of my own.
One day, I invited my old friend Leslie over to jam. She explained that she had invited a friend over that evening but would be happy to bring him along, if he agreed. After dinner, I settled Austin into bed and pulled out my guitar. Leslie arrived a little later with Dick. We had a great time singing and playing together, but I also felt a little uncomfortable. The friend she had brought with her looked vaguely familiar, and he stared at me constantly. I could feel his gaze following me everywhere. It wasn’t uncomfortable, it just made me feel awkward and shy. I felt drawn to him. When Leslie was ready to leave, Dick obviously wasn’t and kept putting her off. Finally, they did leave, but I was left thinking about him. I later found out that when she asked him if he wanted to go with her to jam with Deb Cavanaugh, he told her he didn’t want to make the long drive to Stephentown. She informed him that Paul and I had split up. I had moved out and was now living alone in Albany. He then confessed to her that he’d had a crush on me for years. He was now eager to come. I didn’t remember at the time that this was the same Dick Kavanaugh I had met on the Dutch Apple Cruise and had felt such a strong attraction for then. The attraction was still there, but the memory had faded with time. Leslie called me a few days later saying that Dick had asked for my phone number and asking if it was okay to give it to him. I figured there was no harm in that. I saw him a week later at another friend’s house and felt that same pull. Like I said earlier, I was naïve in matters of attraction and didn’t understand what was going on.
My time at LoAnne’s was coming to an end. I didn’t know where I was going and was starting to worry. Then, another good friend asked if I would like to rent a room in his new apartment. Phil had originally taken on this place planning to have another friend move in, but she had changed her mind. He offered me a deal that I couldn’t refuse. Phil had a daughter living with him half of the time and had promised her that she could have her own room. Austin and I moved into a large room with enough space to put our two dressers in the middle separating it into two separate sleeping areas for us. It was perfect. It was located in a residential neighborhood with not much traffic close to a park. I was only there a week or so when Dick asked me out on our first date.
He took me to The Eighth Step Coffee House on Willett Street in Albany, right by Washington Park. Afterwards we walked for hours and finally went back to my place. As we sat in the kitchen talking all night long, he reminded me of the first time we met. Wow! It all came back to me now. We had talked that evening about our attraction but also about my commitment to making my marriage work. He said that he had been attracted to me for a long time, going to our shows and sitting in the back watching me. He admitted that he didn’t really like our music, but he loved hearing me sing. After spending that evening together on the boat ride, he moved away to Massachusetts because we traveled in the same circles, and he couldn’t stand seeing me around. I wasn’t sure how much of this I believed, but I couldn’t deny the mutual attraction. As the sun rose that morning, I told him that I really needed to go to sleep, would really love to have him stay, but I was exhausted and wanted our first time together to be perfect. He lay down next to me and snuck out after I fell asleep, leaving his card behind with his phone number and a note on the back. My head was reeling the next day. I had determined to stay single, and now here was this wonderful man who had come into my life twice now. It felt like serendipity.
When Paul returned Austin to me later that day, I told him that I had met someone. He wanted to know who it was, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that, yet. I could see that he was jealous, but I’d felt it only fair to let him know. Although he wasn’t happy about it, like so many other times, he shrugged it off. Dick and I started seeing each other regularly, and I tried to keep it fairly casual. I have to admit that I was enjoying our time together. He was encouraging me musically. He played the fiddle and was teaching me to play back up guitar for the Old Time and Irish tunes he loved to play. I learned so quickly with that approach. The Irish tunes in particular had fast chord changes and unusual rhythms. I had grown up with Big Band, blues and jazz, had studied classical music, had been playing rock and roll in a band and was now learning all about folk music. I loved growing as a musician and dove right into this new world. Dick had been immersed in it for most of his life. He’d been going to folk festivals and had been a regular at Caffe Lena. He was even a companion of Lena Spenser’s for a while and was president of the first board of directors for the café after she died. He was introducing me to new songs and new people, and I was ready for a change.
Once again, many of the friends that Paul and I had together decided to take sides. Not many of them had seen Paul’s dark side, and I was always seen as being a snob due to my extreme social anxiety. Band practices were getting more tense since our breakup as well. I was focusing more and more on my songwriting and learning to play guitar. I had no patience for pettiness and jealousies. Paul and I had decided to try to remain friends. We still loved each other very much but just couldn’t live together anymore. Once we got over the initial adjustment, we became better friends than we had been spouses. But the music between us started to die. Although, most of our interactions at the end were in the form of arguing, I often wonder if it was that passion that kept the music alive. Regardless, making music together had stopped being fun. Even at jams that we both attended, he was often critical or just stopped playing and walked away.
Every once in a while, Paul would ask me again about the man I was seeing. He was even quizzing Austin about him. At that point, I didn’t see him when Justin was there. I thought it might be too hard on my fourteen-year-old son to be around my new boyfriend. Then, one day we were all at a party together. I told Dick that I didn’t want Paul to know I was seeing him, so we separated at the door, but somehow, Paul figured it out. He came up to me laughing and shaking his head. “Seriously? Another Kavanaugh,” he said. I explained that I hadn’t planned it that way but, after all, he had introduced us originally. We left the party shortly afterwards because the vibes started getting weird. People had a lot of opinions about this relationship. Some people tried to warn me not to jump into another relationship while I was rebounding. There were even some friends who wanted to warn me that Dick was a bit of a womanizer. Others made remarks about our similar names saying that it seemed a little incestuous. The name thing was a bigger deal to others than it was to us. We saw it as a funny coincidence and nothing more, though it was a little awkward at times.
One time, Dick took me to a party that his friends were hosting. I had Austin that weekend and brought him along. The hosts greeted us at the door. Austin walked in boldly saying, “Hi, I’m Austin Cavanaugh.” The whole place got silent as everyone turned to look at Dick. He had only recently come back on the scene after being away for a few years. He hastily explained that this was not his son, and everyone had a good laugh about it, except Dick. He had been clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in a committed relationship. We had even agreed to an open relationship. But things were moving fast. Dick, who was living with his brother in Saratoga Springs at that time, started staying at my apartment nearly every night. This enraged Paul for a variety of reasons. One day, we had a huge fight outside of The Free School just as school was letting out. He was standing in the middle of the street screaming at me, oblivious even to the fact that he was blocking traffic until someone started leaning on their horn. That was the last straw. Except for transferring Austin from one of us to the other, we stopped having contact with each other. It was still too raw for both of us. This also meant the end of the band.
I’ve often said that being in a band is like being in a family. When you share music with the same people for so long, you create a unique bond. Good music comes from the soul. Just like in a love relationship, you have to reach inside and share your most intimate self with your fellow musicians, and an audience feels that when they listen. I know that playing music with others is the best high I’ve ever had. But now Paul and I were not only ending our twenty-year relationship, but also ending our twenty-year music relationship. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to untangle the two. The music had woven itself into everything, all of our shared adventures, the births of our children and all of the relationships along the way. We were incredible music partners, working well together and balancing each other as both songwriters and performers. We did manage to maintain a friendship eventually, and I was grateful for that. But the music didn’t recover. I’ve always regretted that loss the most.
Although I have often wished that Paul and I could have salvaged our shared music, my own music only grew from there as I started taking myself more seriously. I had spent four decades being criticized and stifled. Now I was being encouraged and appreciated. When I was frustrated about not learning the guitar quickly enough, Dick pointed out the steps I’d made. He pushed me to book solo gigs and taught me traditional folk music. I was also starting to focus more on songwriting. I’d always had to fight for the songs I wrote by myself. With Dick Kavanaugh’s help, I started growing as an individual rather than one half of a whole.
My life was now starting to unravel in all directions. I had taken a big leap into my vagabond life with Paul when I was still pretty young, became a mother two days after my twenty-second birthday, and moved from one coast to another and back again twice. We’d settled in upstate New York because in second grade, Jessie refused to move again. I liked living there because I had finally built up a community. I felt settled. Paul, on the other hand, got sustenance from being on the road. He was always searching. He knew there had to be something better out there waiting for him. He was not happy being settled, and the bond between us just died. I understood that he needed to move on, but he wouldn’t abandon his family. We didn’t fight anymore. We still played music together and felt a little spark at those times. Those were the only good times. The rest of the time, Paul was miserable and withering away. It felt like we were both dying, so I resolved to leave.
One day, I told Paul that I was planning, at some point, to move out. A little after Justin was born, I told him that when both of our two children were out of high school, I would want my own place and try to maintain our marriage if he wanted. We could stay at each other’s places but live apart. I knew even back then that I couldn’t be around that much anger constantly. He kind of shrugged it off. I started trying to come up with a plan. I was only making one hundred twenty dollars a week plus extra money each month from music lessons and gigs. The first thing I had to figure out was finances. Then one day in the spring, as my friend LoAnne and I were sitting at Barberville Falls with our dogs, she told me that she was going to Europe for an adventure. She offered to let me stay at her apartment for the cost of the utilities during that time. I started to cry. This was the first open door of this new episode. At home, I started ignoring the guilt trips and yelling deciding instead to let it just wash over me until I could move. She was leaving at the end of the summer, so I told Paul that I would be moving out Labor Day weekend. Once again, he just kind of shrugged it off.
Justin was fourteen and was wild. He’d mostly grown up in New York and was well versed in both the backwoods and the ghetto. He also gravitated to the rough customers. I was going to be staying in a really tough neighborhood. I’d lived in the South End and was streetwise, but this section of town was one of the worst. I decided not to take Justin with me. I hoped that he and his dad would bond once I was gone. Their relationship was always a bit tenuous. Paul had left for more than a month when Justin was only a few months old. He had gone to Pittsburgh to be with his father in his final days. Justin was a very clingy baby and mostly wanted to be with me. He was wary of Paul when he returned, and I think that hurt Paul, causing him to step back. And, I tend to also be a force to be reckoned with. I was often trying to make nice between them. Now, it was time for me to step back. I would take Austin, who would be three.
Being a boy, Justin was trying to connect with and model his life after his dad’s. Paul had a lot of good traits. He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. More times than I can count, I saw him give away his last dollar to someone who looked like they needed it more. He always told me that the more you give away, the more comes back to you. He was friendly and outgoing, incredibly funny and loved “bad jokes,” especially his own. He was everyone’s friend. He had an unusual style of rhythm guitar. He could easily go from basic or complex rhythms to a rhythm lead that almost sounded like two guitars playing together. His hands were also large enabling him to reach his fingers across even wide guitar necks like a spider’s legs. I realized later in my life that I learned a lot about playing rhythm guitar from living with him before I ever played one myself. Paul also read constantly. He read newspapers, novels, non-fiction, anything he could get his hands on making him brilliantly smart and well-versed in many affairs. I hoped that Justin could learn great things from his dad.
I would still need to figure out what to do when LoAnne came back. I knew that once I left, I wasn’t going back. But another thing I had learned from Paul was to have faith that things would work out in the end. We both knew that if we looked for the clues, and followed them, the path would unfold. So, I didn’t think about that yet and just started to pack. I didn’t want to take much. I didn’t need household things, because LoAnne was all set up, but I wanted a few treasures, and I knew Austin would need things. I tried to talk to Paul about the upcoming split, but he just ignored it all.
Jes was now living an eleven-hour drive away outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also wanted to just leave and not look back, but she was not happy there. I didn’t know how to talk to her about these things. She had always been a dramatic person. Was she blowing things out of proportion? Should she come back? She was still only seventeen. During every phone call, she was angry with me for trying to interfere. I didn’t know how to navigate this part of parenting. I knew that her birth control prescription was due to run out and wanted to be sure that she’d found a new doctor. I even tried to get her to come home long enough to see her old doctor, who absolutely would have seen her. She was determined to live her life on other own. I had done the same thing, but I was a few years older than she was now. Then one night, I suddenly woke up. I got up and checked in on both boys, then looked all around. I even walked outside. Everything seemed to be okay, but I had this nagging feeling that something was very wrong. I tried to go back to sleep and got up again. Then the phone rang. It was Jes calling to tell me that she was pregnant.
No one knew what to do now, not us, not Jack’s parents. Everyone had their own opinions and feelings. Those poor kids must have felt assaulted. They had jumped into their own adventure but didn’t have a solid plan. They were living in the basement of Jack’s family home. His parents were not happy with the situation. I never understood why they agreed to this move in the first place. They could have just said no, and it would have waited until they were more prepared. Now there was a potential child. We were summoned to a meeting. So, we drove to Michigan to talk. As I said, everyone had their own thoughts, and it was brutal. I wanted them to look at all of their options. I had done this with my first and third children because they were surprises. There was anger and many tears, accusations and general tumult when suddenly Jes jumped up and ran out of the house. Jack swiftly followed. The meeting was over. I remember breathing a sigh of relief. When she returned, I asked her to come home with us for a visit to help her settle herself a bit. Once again, she accused me of trying to make her decisions and run her life. We left shortly after, and I wrote her a long letter on the ride home. I poured my heart out, but I never mailed it. I think I still have it somewhere, a memento of an emotional time. Here I was at forty leaving my twenty-year relationship while being financially insecure on Labor Day weekend with a three-year old, while my seventeen-year-old daughter was expecting a child in another state in September. September was turning out to be a big month.
In addition to the craziness in my personal life, General Eclectic was having personnel issues. Bob and Andy weren’t getting along. They’d never really meshed. Paul and I loved playing with both of them, because we thrived on variety. These guys provided musical variety but that came with varied temperaments. They grated on each other. Then a woman got involved with one of the members. Let’s call her Joan. She was incredibly sweet but didn’t understand her role in the group. She and I started to clash. She wasn’t one of the musicians but came to every practice and wanted to voice her opinions. She was also jealous of the time spent at practice and of the shared music not only among the entire band but between me and Paul. She decided that she and her boyfriend would start a duo on the side. Before long, she wanted to be singing with us, but we said no. She and I were friends, and I felt bad, but we all knew it wasn’t going to work. The music started to feel toxic because of all the tensions in the band. Then Andy left, or maybe he got thrown out. I don’t really remember much about those difficult days with everything else that was going on for me. I just know that I felt a huge sense of loss when that happened. Andy had been with us almost from the beginning of General Eclectic. He was part of the DNA of the band. Not long after, the band started crumbling apart.
But there were still gigs to do and parties to play, so the band played on. I kept reminding Paul that I was moving out. He didn’t seem to have noticed. There were decisions that had to be made but I certainly didn’t want to make waves, so I stopped talking about it. Then one day in August, we went to a music party in Troy. I had been stacking my few boxes in a corner of the living room as I packed and was starting to let myself feel excited. The party was all abuzz about my impending move. Everyone had heard about it and wanted to know where and when I was going. I tried not to talk about it around Paul, knowing that it might be upsetting to him. We partied and jammed until late. As we were walking to the chair, Paul turned around and started screaming at me about how angry he was that he had to find out that I was leaving him from friends at the party. I just stood there in amazement. How could he not know? I’d pestered him for a while about logistics and had been packing and stacking boxes in full sight. Suddenly I realized that his avoidance of the subject had been to support his denial that it was even happening. I told him that I’d been trying to talk with him about it for many months, but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t speak to me for the next two weeks but drove me, Austin and our things to Albany on Labor Day. Austin turned three the weekend we moved.
Justin was starting school, so I told him that he could visit on weekends. I didn’t sleep much that first night in this temporary apartment. I was sadder than I’d ever been. I thought that Paul and I would stay together forever. I was counting on it. My heart was not just broken, it felt shredded. I always knew that music has amazing healing powers. I wore out my copy of “I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” by Bonnie Raitt. I would start out singing along to it, trying to heal myself until my sobs prevented it. Little did I know at the time that Paul was doing the same with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. We’d arranged for Austin to spend equal time with Paul. They had created a strong bond at Austin’s birth, and Paul was trying to be a better parent with him. Once in a while, I would go out to a club to hear another band. There was always someone around that I knew. Suddenly, I was being paid attention to in a different way. I’d always had male friends. Most of my friends have been male. Now, the vibe was different, and the sudden change made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I’d never done much flirting and didn’t really understand the process. I was thankful for those who remained the friends they’d always been. My head was already reeling, and it felt like I was being thrown to the wolves. Some of my friends were even giving me advice about dating. They knew I hadn’t been in that scene for twenty years. What they didn’t know is that the brief time I had been in that scene was pretty traumatic. Of course, everyone had their own set of standards. Some encouraged me to not have sex until after the first few dates, others suggested that I jump right in. Everyone cautioned me not to get serious about someone else too quickly. I wasn’t interested in any of it. I determined to finally be on my own. Maybe I’d have a little fun, but nothing more than that.
I always said that if any of my partner ever got violent, I would not stay with him. I had become accustomed to physical and emotional abuse at an early age, but although I knew that I couldn’t tolerate physical abuse anymore, the emotional abuse was harder to recognize. Maybe I was also a bit naïve thinking, and hoping, that things could change. But things were getting worse between me and Paul. We mostly didn’t speak much to each other except for working on our music together and avoided even spending any time together. I had given up and just wanted peace, so I withdrew. Then the one day I did engage in an argument, and he pushed me up against the wall with his hands wrapped around my throat, screaming at me. I packed up my kids, got in the car and started driving. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew I had to get out of the house. I drove to a nearby lake, parked the car and turned around to Jes. “Give me a cigarette,” I said. “What? I don’t smoke,” was her reply. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “This is not the time to play games, just give me a cigarette.” She recognized that look and reached into her purse. It was the first cigarette I’d had in many years, and it was perfect. It gave me time to think.
I took the kids to our friends’ home and went back to confront Paul. He was upset and kept apologizing over and over again. He promised it would never happen again. I told him that if he wanted me to come back home, he had to agree to counseling this time, and he did. We found someone in Albany that we could see weekly. After our first session, she remarked that we had brought her an already dead marriage. Her advice was to start from scratch by going on dates with certain ground rules. We weren’t allowed to talk about music business or our family, and no sex afterwards. Paul insisted that it wasn’t possible to date because we had no money for that. She replied that it could be simply a walk together or sitting by the fire in the backyard. It was about getting to know each other again. But he still wasn’t having it. He explained that we had a small child that couldn’t be left alone. Meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, “We have a baby monitor and older kids.” I explained that to him and suggested that if we were in the yard, it would be fine. If we wanted to go out somewhere, Jes would surely be willing to babysit. When he ran out of excuses, he agreed.
A week went by. At the next appointment, and the counselor asked how our date went. Paul spoke right up, regaling her with an elaborate tale of our date walking down the road to the little stream then sitting by the fire watching the stars. “It was wonderful,” he said. I sat there staring at him wide-eyed and confused. Our counselor noticed my expression and turned to me asking if I had gone on the same date. But we hadn’t actually had a date. Every time I had asked Paul about it, he put it off. When confronted with the truth in that session, he blamed me. He insisted that he felt emasculated by me always trying to run the show. The assignment for the next week was for me to not say anything but wait for his initiative. I agreed. The ride home was horrendous. He screamed at me during the entire time wanting to know why I couldn’t have just backed him up. It made him look like a fool. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to waste our money on a fruitless endeavor. Why go to a counselor if we weren’t going to listen to her advice? I didn’t want to spend money for him to lie to her.
A week went by with no date. On the way into the next appointment, Paul asked me to just go along with whatever he said. Again, he told a fanciful tale of our romantic evening together. This time, I turned and asked him who he went on this date with. The counselor just sighed and asked me to stay behind at the end of the session. She told me that there was no hope of saving the relationship and offered to counsel me alone if I wanted that. I accepted her offer and went out to tell Paul. Once again, he yelled all the way home, and I knew it was the end. I worked with the counselor long enough to realize that psychological and emotional abuse was as damaging to me as the physical abuse and started looking ahead. I was now back to working at The Free School full-time and giving a few piano lessons. I realized this was not going to be enough for me to live on if I left. Paul usually made around minimum wage and wasn’t going to be able to help out much either.
My job at The Free School was to manage the “upstairs” which was the kindergarten and pre-school area. I also ran the breakfast and lunch programs, taught Kindergarten, music and helped supplement the learning for the older kids in other subjects. Every day, as I taught my students, I also learned about being a better teacher. I liked doing experiential learning with them. On every first day of school, for geography class, I asked them, “Where (in the world) are you, right now?” The answers would start out with “at school, in Albany,” or even “in New York.” But I wanted to know all the details. What street and neighborhood was it in? What county, state, country, continent, hemisphere, galaxy? Then we would walk through the neighborhood looking around, learning to use our eyes and our senses to get around. Taking students into the community is a large part of the Free School model. I gradually introduced them to maps, having them draw their own and playing a fun game where they try to navigate using someone else’s map. I also loved doing science experiments, too. There are so many simple things that are educational and exciting at the same time. Just think about it, you can teach the concept of centrifugal force by filling a pail with water and twirl it over and around your head quickly, so it doesn’t fall out. It looks like magic, and what kid doesn’t like magic? Or, how about those crazy rides at the amusement parks that hold you again the outer wall.
All of the teachers had our own strengths and weaknesses when it came to teaching, so we each focused on what we did best. We asked about the students’ interests, then decided on a teaching strategy. When someone wanted to learn about volcanos, I was able to step in. I had lived in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted and was able to describe my experience living near a volcano. I shared my newspaper clippings and showed a slideshow my dad had given me of before and after the eruption. I snuck in some science and art by making volcanos out of paper maché and erupting them with baking soda and vinegar. We even had volcano music. I loved teaching and continued to learn and grow as a teacher every day.
Around that same time, Jes was embarking on her great love affair. I knew she and Jack were sexually active. As soon as I realized this, I took her to a doctor and got her set up with birth control. She’d had also gotten good sex education both at home and at The Free School, but I also knew that accidents happen all the time. And I realized that I got pregnant easily, even while using birth control. One day, during a particularly rough day with Austin, who was still a baby, I knocked on her door, stormed in and dumped Austin in Jes’ arms, saying, “I just want you to be aware of the potential consequence of what you are doing!” Then I walked back out the door and got a much-needed break from parenting for a few hours. Jack came for the Junior Prom that year. I helped Jes pick out her dress and remember thinking that it reminded me of a wedding.
By the summer of 1992, Jes was sick and tired of feeling repressed and alien in public school so when we heard about a new alternative high school starting up, she asked to make that change. I explained that, although I supported the change, we just couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, so she found a part-time job at a shoe store. In the middle of the fall semester, the school had turned out to be a disaster and was on the verge of closing when Jes suddenly told me that she wanted to drop out. She was now seventeen-years old and could get her GED. She was incredibly smart and was above most of her peers academically, so I agreed that it was probably the best move at that time.
It was the end of November, just before Thanksgiving, when she told me that she wanted to move to Michigan to live with Jack. She would get a job and go to night school to study for her GED. Then, she told me that she’d already arranged to be picked up by Jack and his dad the next day, the day before Thanksgiving. I had raised her to be independent, resourceful and a force to be reckoned with. I knew there was no stopping her short of tying her up, but my head was reeling. I knew she would move away, maybe go away to college, but I also thought I had at least the rest of the school year to have her at home. Suddenly, I thought of all of the wisdom I wanted to impart and the things I still wanted to do with her. Michigan felt so far away, and she was still so young. I also understood that she wanted to escape the constant tension in the house. Our children had grown up in an environment filled with apprehension and anger. I felt trapped, but she wasn’t going to be.
I spent that whole day and the next crying. The sudden loss was unbearable. I felt as though my heart was breaking. I hadn’t had any time to prepare and wasn’t ready for this huge change. She wasn’t even going to spend Thanksgiving with us. As the tears kept coming, I helped her pack, broke the news to Paul and tried to say the things that felt like they needed to be said. I cautioned her that it was too late to get her a doctor’s appointment, and her prescription for birth control pills was due to expire soon. Jes didn’t want any input from me. She was determined to make this decision and deal with the details on her own. Just as I had done with my mother when leaving, she pushed me away. I’ve noticed that it often seems easier to leave if you’re angry. Jack and his father came on Wednesday. This was the first time I met Harry. He was an Episcopalian minister. He basically counseled me while the two kids packed up all of her things into their van because I was crying non-stop. I don’t remember much about that Thanksgiving. We must have had one and I must have been there, but I was in a daze.
After counting the years until I would move out on my own, without the responsibilities of raising a family, I was having another child. Jessie, who had recently decided to abbreviate her name to Jes., was almost fifteen and Justin was eleven. I felt as though I was in the home stretch. Now, I was back to square one. I considered many options including adoption but soon realized that I couldn’t give up this child that I would carry inside of me for nine months, so I resigned myself to the fact that this was a life changer. However, I was not happy about it. I knew that my unhappiness would affect my unborn child, so I tried to accept it.
I have always used divining tools such as the I-Ching, a form of Chinese divination using coins or sticks. I hate to use the word divination because it’s more about guiding your thinking. One day, I decided to toss the coins and see what reading I got. I read the two hexagrams and started to meditate on them. I’ve never been successful at what I believed was meditation but suddenly I envisioned a golden light emanating from inside of me. I followed the light and saw an early fetus floating in this golden glow. I was awed. Then, I thought to myself, I wonder what sex this baby is. Immediately, the glow was gone, and I was back, like a shot, in the real world. I sat there feeling intense love for my child and, in that moment, totally accepted his coming.
During all of my pregnancies, I had amazing, vivid and colorful dreams, but during this one, they came almost every night. This dream is taken directly from my journal. I was walking through the woods with a friend when we saw a dead bird hanging on a door. I thought at first that it was a pheasant because of the coloring and the design of the dots, but the feathers had eyes like peacock feathers. As the feathers fell out, my friend picked up all of the most beautiful ones, except for one, and I felt disappointed. We walked back into the woods, though still in sight of the door. I suddenly saw an enormous bird – the size of a man – hanging upside down in a tree. He started spinning around, faster and faster. After a while he came flying toward us. I was scared and tried to warn my friend, but she didn’t hear me. The bird swooped at me then flew around and around my head. As he slowed down, I could see that he was a man. He was dressed all in feathers and was weaving a fan of feathers. He took my only beautiful feather to finish it. I started to cry. He told me to throw away what I had in my hand and stop looking for beautiful things. I started to walk away when I noticed another bir4d hanging on that same door. This one was more beautiful than the first. I started to walk away when a voice said, “These are for you.” I picked these beautiful feathers and wove a fan. As I wove, the door opened, and I went inside. Inside there were exquisite flowers hanging upside down on the walls. AN old man sitting there told me to take some of them for my fan, so I plucked some of the petals as if they were feathers on a bird. There was another room with people in it playing music. As I turned to enter that room, I woke up. This was only one of so many incredible dreams during that time.
Although, I had accepted this and was looking forward to meeting my newest child, it was not an easy time. Paul was obsessed with another woman and had started calling out her name while sleeping next to me. At that time, I considered her one of my best friends, and she and her husband spent lots of time with us. When we were considering adoption, we had approached them because they were trying to adopt. With this pregnancy, I quit smoking pot because it didn’t feel good. It only made me more tired than I already was. To Paul, this was a deal breaker. I was his smoking companion. He started more and more time with our other friend who was also a big pothead. I also knew that she had been cheating on her husband and assumed she wouldn’t hesitate to sleep with Paul. Our relationship was already on the rocks, so I finally sat him down and told him to go for it. “Go ahead and sleep with her, then decide who you want to be with,” I said. I figured it was better than the sneaking around that he’d done for years. He chose to pull away from her and stay with me. I had originally asked her to be a support person during my labor but uninvited her after this. At that point, I knew that I would not wait until this child was grown before moving out. I needed to settle into new parenthood again and figure out how to support myself, but I knew I would do it within the next few years.
Meanwhile, I still had adolescent and teenaged children to care for. Jes. was very moody and in love with the young man she’d met at the conference in Oregon. They were writing letters and organizing visits back and forth by train. One day she asked me, “Just out of curiosity, does sex always hurt?” She obviously wasn’t giving me much credit for being a smart and aware mother. My answer was, “How long have you been having sex?” I knew that she was strong-willed and, no matter what I said, she would continue doing as she had been doing, so we made a doctor’s appointment. I was pregnant myself after having used reliable birth control and now had a sexually active daughter. My mind was reeling. Justin was entering adolescence and hanging out with a bunch of troubled boys. Now, I was worried about both of them and wondering how I would deal with everything. Neither of them talked much to their dad about anything of import, and he didn’t really want to know what was going on with them, so I shouldered it all.
During this pregnancy, I continued to do gigs. We played at a festival in Lincoln Park where Governor Andrew Cuomo was jogging by and stopped, with his security detail, to enjoy the show. We were onstage at the time singing a Grateful Dead song “Ship of Fools.” Then we went over and chatted with him for a while. He told us he enjoyed our set, especially that song. We had to laugh. At that same concert, a stranger came up to me and started yelling at me for being obscene. He was upset by the fact that I was quite pregnant up on stage. I was immediately surrounded by many male friends who quickly set this guy straight then shadowed me for the rest of the day. We also played at a few clubs and a couple of weddings. It was a good year for gigs, and I was determined that this pregnancy was not going to hold us back. We’d worked long and hard to get where we were, and the other two kids were finally old enough to be on their own in the evenings when necessary.
Austin was born three weeks late after trying unsuccessfully to induce labor through natural means. Finally, my midwife did an invasive procedure that did get it started. Because of my previous history, I decided to stay at The Family Life Center in Albany rather than risk a home birth forty-five minutes away from town. Jes. and Justin were old enough to stay at the house by themselves for a couple of days, but the days stretched on and on. After two days, I finally went into full out labor. As usual, my labor was horrific. Both of my sons were posterior, which means that they were facing the opposite direction. This often causes back labor and lengthens the time. Although I resisted, eventually, the midwives insisted on taking me to the hospital. Once again, my regular doctor was away, but the doctor who was on call this time was wonderful. My baby was born pretty quickly once I arrived at the hospital. Everything was uneventful until they decided that he was at risk.
He was born with a little bit of meconium in the fluid. Meconium is the discharge from a newborn’s bowels. It was almost insignificant, but the pediatric staff whisked him away to the newborn ICU. He was over nine pounds with a lusty cry, but they didn’t even let me hold him. Paul went with them, holding Austin’s little hands and talking to him while my midwives stayed with me. As soon as I could, I followed after my baby and insisted on holding him. I opened up my gown and held him against my skin where he became calm and his heart rate became normalized. The nurses grabbed him back, and his heart rate climbed. I held him again, right against my skin, and saw that his heart rate was normal again. I pointed this out, and they accused me of jiggling the wires. Then they said they had to do tests. We asked what tests they planned on doing. We refused the chest x-ray and blood tests. We could see that he was fine. My doctor decided to check me into the hospital overnight so I could be with Austin. Paul and I went off to settle me into my room. When we reentered the ICU, we found them trying to take blood for testing. Austin was screaming, and we were furious. Finally, after being up for days, exhausted after another difficult and long labor, we signed a waiver releasing them of any responsibility and left with our baby.
Paul went home to freshen up and get our other two kids to meet their new brother while I settled back into The Family Life Center where I would stay for a few days recovering. My parents came to visit and LoAnne and Ti, her white malamute, came. The Family Life Center was part of The Free School community, so a couple of neighbors also came to check in and bring me meals. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and ready to crash. It was Sunday, and the kids had school the next day, so Paul went home with them. That evening at six o’clock, Austin started to cry. He was inconsolable. I had a lot of experience by now with babies and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He cried non-stop until eight the next morning while I rocked him, sang to him and often cried along with him. I realized later that those were the same hours that the hospital had intervened with him, poking and prodding him, sticking him with needles and keeping him from me. At eight o’clock, he stopped as though someone had turned a switch. After that, he never really cried much. He would fuss a little when hungry but mostly just did that baby bird open mouth signal. He didn’t cry when he needed a diaper change but just squirmed until I figured it out. He was the most easy-going baby I’d ever encountered. I guessed that he just got the trauma out of his system during that one night. He also had bonded strongly with his dad. Paul was the first contact he’d had, and they remained close.
The next morning, when my breakfast was delivered and my friends and midwives realized that I’d been there alone with a crying infant all night, they arranged for someone be there full-time until I recovered. I finally got some much-needed sleep, waking long enough to nurse my son then go back to sleep. After three more days there, I went back home to my family and my routine. The Free School gave me a year off with my full salary, which I greatly appreciated. I did go in once in a while to visit, but it was a relief not to have to feel obligated to go into work every day. When I did go back, I was given a class of three. They were my son and two other babies of similar ages. It was ideal. And our dog Popsicle, who had been so protective of me while I was pregnant, watched over Austin, bringing him toys and often resting his head on his lap.
Soon after we reunited following our seven-month separation, we decided that we should have a dog and found a husky through a shelter that had families host dogs until they could find them a home. Rory a big, muscular dog. He was three years old and wasn’t well trained. We decided to take him on a trial basis. We soon found that we couldn’t let him run wild because he wouldn’t come when called. We tried taking him for walks, but he was pretty unmanageable and actually dragged me down the road one day. So, we set up a long run for him in the yard. This worked for a while until he took off chasing a squirrel one day. One end of the run was attached to the front porch, and he ripped it off the house, dragging it off behind him. We brought him back to the family we had gotten him from and, a week or so later, found Popsicle.
When we first went to meet him, he ran right up to us as if he known us his whole life. We fell in love instantly. His host family was calling him Bowser, but Justin insisted his name was Popsicle. He was a nine-month-old Great Dane/Golden Lab mix. He was the best dog ever. He was smart and lovable. He also loved to swim. I took him swimming as often as I could. His fur had an oily coating on it that made the water bead up on the surface. He would come out of the water and shake, drenching anyone nearby and end up being completely dry himself. We often went to Barberville Falls in Poestenkill, New York. There is no swimming allowed there anymore, but back then it was a popular swimming hole.
Unfortunately, Labs are bird dogs, and our neighbor had chickens. One day Popsicle came home with a dead chicken in his mouth, and we knew we were in trouble. The neighbor was understanding and, since it was only one chicken, he let us pay for it with as long as we agreed to not let it happen again. Things went along fine until one day, the neighbor came back over, shotgun in hand and dragging our dog along behind him. He had found Popsicle in the chicken coop surrounded by six dead chickens with one still in his mouth. Apparently, Pop, always friendly, even wagged his tail when he saw the neighbor. That was the only reason he didn’t shoot him immediately. He wanted to give us the chance to find him another home, but we were not willing to give him up yet.
Another neighbor, an old farmer, told us to tie a dead chicken around his neck and leave him tied outside for a week with the rotting chicken. It sounded too gruesome to me, but we were desperate to keep this member of our family, so we did it. That poor dog sat out there crying and howling. It was hard to go out even to feed him because the smell became so bad, but we managed somehow. He was so sad, and it was heart wrenching. He never went inside his shelter but just sat out in the yard looking miserable. At the end of the week, we buried the chicken carcass and gave him a bath. The neighbor had agreed that, if his chickens wandered into our yard, they were fair game, but I knew if he got the taste for it, it would be all over. Those chickens did come into our yard occasionally. It was as if they were purposely taunting him, and although he occasionally chased them, he never killed another bird. The neighbor also eventually secured his chicken yard better, keeping them out of his reach. He did also kill Jessie’s kitten later on, though. Now to be fair, the kitten was sitting in his food bowl, which I know is no excuse. He grabbed that tiny thing in his massive jaws and shook her, spraying droplets of blood everywhere. I cleaned that up for months afterwards. He didn’t actually kill her but had mangled her so badly that Paul ended up finishing the job. It was very traumatic for everyone that day.
The other bad habit he had was chasing cars. He loved to go for rides in the car, and I think he was looking for a ride. It was always easy to get him to come if he was being stubborn by just opening up the car door. I always made sure to take him for a short ride afterwards so it would continue to work. I never had another dog who loved to travel so much. But chasing cars was dangerous as well as being upsetting for the drivers. We had to come up with a plan, so we went to talk to the same man who had helped us out before. He told us about another unique solution. We got a bunch of people together and armed them with pots and pans, chains, basically anything that made a lot of noise. We all got in the car and drove down the road waiting for Popsicle to chase us. As soon as he did, we stopped the car and all hopped out, making the biggest racket we could. Paul had some heavy chains that he rattled and slammed on the ground. I had a cymbal and mallet. Poor Pop stopped in his tracks and ran back to the house with his tail between his legs. We had to do that a few times to finally break him of the habit, but once again, it worked. He never chased another car.
I grew up with dogs and I absolutely love them. But I also have no tolerance for their misbehavior. I always realized that because dogs are pack animals, I needed to be the leader of the pack. I need to have my dogs listen to and respect me. I’ve always made sure to deepen my voice when giving commands and have always tried to be consistent. I feel as though the pets in the house have a responsibility as members of the family just like everyone else. In addition to being our companions, our cats were responsible for keeping the mice at bay, and our dogs protected us. I figured that if the cats stopped catching mice, they must be overfed, so I cut back or even sometimes withheld their food, if they were being stubborn about it. I was never cruel to any of our animals, but I have occasionally been called hard-hearted. I just have certain expectations that are important to me. For example, I don’t like being harassed by a dog while I’m eating, so I never give them scraps at the table. When I was cooking or we were eating, Popsicle was not allowed in the room. I patiently worked with him until he understood. I would snap my fingers and point saying, “Out,” and he would back up to the edge of the linoleum. He was incredibly smart. After a while, all I had to do was look at him, and he would start doing a belly crawl backwards until his nails were right on the line. He was also sneaky, though. He would wait for me to relax my guard and start slowly inching his way in until I turned around. Then he would do his backwards crawl again and wait for the next opportunity. Once dinner was over, he was always welcome to come in and clean up the scraps on the floor.
At the end of 1989, Paul and I were fighting again pretty constantly, and I had decided not to engage in it anymore. Both kids were getting older. Jessie was in high school already, and I figured I could wait it out until they were out of the house before striking out on my own. I think that Paul was addicted to the adrenaline he got when fighting because once I stopped fighting back, we didn’t engage in much of anything except our music. He didn’t talk to me anymore except for necessary logistics. It didn’t stop him from yelling though. It seemed as though he yelled even more than before, so I often took the kids out of the house early in the morning before he woke up so we could avoid the drama. But, in spite of it all, we had one romantic night and, even with the birth control I used, I became pregnant with our third child.
Although Popsicle was officially Justin’s dog, he was my buddy. I was the one who had trained him and who took him on outings, usually swimming and hiking or car rides. He often curled up with me on the couch in the evenings if he wasn’t with Justin on the floor. He laid with his head on my pregnant belly just like Topaz had done with my first pregnancy. And, like him, I also loved being in the water especially when I’m pregnant. But ever since I almost drowned as a child, I’ve also been a little afraid of the water. As a result, I’m not a strong swimmer. Pop must have instinctively known that. While I was pregnant and tried to take him swimming, he barked at me and tried to herd me back to shore.
We often spent a week in the summer staying on an island in the middle of a large lake in Maine with a bunch of our friends. Because we were in the middle of a lake, we had to bring everything we needed to the island by boat, so the first and last days were usually taken up with multiple trips back and forth transporting everyone and their stuff. There was a small cabin on the land that was used for cooking with a small space for sleeping, so everyone brought their own tents. That first year of the party, we all decided to go into town one day, leaving the dogs behind. We’d had to tie Pop up outside the tent so he wouldn’t follow us across the lake. While we were gone, there was a thunderstorm. We knew Popsicle was afraid of thunder and rushed back as soon as we could. When we got there, we found him sitting inside the tent. He’d gotten scared and jumped through the screened window tearing a huge rip in it. Ugh! This was the borrowed tent. Luckily, my friend was understanding and let me repair it rather than buy a new one. After that we left him inside the cabin when we went to town.
I always looked forward to this week of partying, canoeing and swimming. Pop was in heaven practically living in the water, swimming across the lake with Justin and following along in the water next to the boats when we went out. But the year I was pregnant, he was constantly nervous, following me around and growling if I went near the water. He would swim out ahead of me and keep pushing at me until I finally got up on the shore. One day, my friend and I decided to canoe around the perimeter of the island. We’d done this in years past but this year, we made sure to wait until Pop wasn’t in sight. Then we quickly launched the canoe and started our circuit. Popsicle soon noticed us out on the lake and quickly swam out to the outside of the canoe trying to push it towards shore. He bumped up against it repeatedly as we slapped the paddles on the water trying to shoo him away. He even grabbed the paddles in his teeth.
My friend’s dog, Ti which was short for Titanium, was a white Malamute. She and Pop were best friends. They were always together. But, unlike Popsicle, whose fur repelled the water, Ty’s fur was like a sponge. She kept swimming out into that deep water to be with her friend. Pop was torn. He would take the time to swim her back, trying to leave her on shore, but she would keep following him out. Finally, she started to sink from her weighted down fur. We didn’t know what to do. She was quite a distance from the boat. We watched in horror as her snout started to dip below the surface. We would never get to her in time, but we didn’t need to. Popsicle swam over, grabbed the scruff of her neck, lifted her head out of the water and swam her back to shore. Then he stayed along the shoreline with his buddy, keeping her safe while frantically barking at the canoe until we finally gave in and landed. Everyone was amazed by his heroic deed. I stayed out of the water for the rest of the trip because it upset him so much. I figured he deserved that courtesy. However, he also never left my side, making sure I wouldn’t sneak off without him.
In the late eighties, I was in my mid-thirties, and we were still struggling to survive financially with two kids. We did manage to do it one way or another and even occasionally had a little cushion. But Paul jumped from job to job, never figuring where he belonged, and my work didn’t pay well. Although the salary was low, I was learning how to be a teacher during my time at The Free School. I discovered that I loved teaching which was a total surprise to me. I never went to college, so this was my education as well as my livelihood. I could do this work without having to get a degree. I never imagined I would become a teacher having hated school throughout my entire experience. I think in part it was because I didn’t really learn there and was bored to tears. My dad was a newspaperman and had me reading well before I even started kindergarten. I had free access to his large library. If I were able to read at that level, I could read any book I wanted. I devoured books. I would get lost in them for hours, living in that other time and place. I often carried a book open, reading as I walked from one place to another. When I got to first grade and was given Dick and Jane books to read, I just escaped into my head reliving a book I had previously read or creating my own stories. I remember very few details about school, all the way through high school, but I remember my daydreams. I have also since realized that I never had a teacher who really saw me. I was shy and a little different from the other kids. I faded into the background. As a teacher, I look for those lost kids. I also like the troublemakers.
The good thing about troublemakers is that they don’t hide who they are. Everything is right out there for you to see. You may not like what you see, but you can’t turn away. They demand your attention, so I give it to them. I give them important tasks to do turning them into leaders. They generally behave pretty well when made to feel important. But there are different kinds of troublemakers. There are also malicious ones who behave in a mean and hurtful way. They inevitably have been hurt at home from an early age and need a lot of acceptance and love. That love and acceptance with a healthy helping of sternness when needed usually turns them around. Then, there are the lovable ones who blunder their way into trouble.
Justin was one of those lovable troublemakers. He always that twinkle in his eye. He was an adventurer, much like I am, and curious about everything. He liked to dash into situations in his life. Remember, he was the one who escaped the house in Portland, Oregon, before he was even two, by climbing out of the window and making his way up through the brambles to the main road, stopping traffic in both directions. That was just the beginning. But I had to acknowledge the similarity to my own escapade at age two of climbing over the baby gate at the back door, climbing up on the railing of the porch and diving down into the rosebushes below.
When we moved to Stephentown, New York, we lived on a dead-end dirt road. We had lived in various places and always had to figure out the new scene, but this was a different scene altogether. That didn’t stop us. Although, we knew we could live anywhere and get along with just about anyone, we soon realized that many of the families at our end of the road were alcoholics, druggies, wife-beaters and more. It was intense. Pretty soon, Justin met the boys on the road. All but one of them came from rough backgrounds. The kids were a definite product of that lifestyle, but they were also good kids and smarter than they realized. The first time I met them was when they threw Justin’s new bike into the little stream that ran along the side of the property. Of course, I became the angry lion mama and ran out there to confront them. I didn’t want to hear any of their excuses but insisted they retrieve the bike and clean it up. Some of the kids were his age but most were older. Because of my work as a teacher working with some pretty tough kids, I commanded an air of respect that kids responded well to. After they finished cleaning it up, I heard them out and found out that Justin had thrown one of their bikes in first. It went back and forth with more to the story than that but, on that day, we all earned a mutual respect.
Justin liked many of the same things that I did. We both loved being outside exploring the woods. Jessie had always been an inside girl. I often had to hand her a pile of books and make stay outside for fresh air. I occasionally locked the door to keep her out. But Justin liked the outdoors. We often wandered our way through the woods, making trails as we went along and naming landmarks. There were different distinct areas. For example, there glacial floe which had left a field of stones and a large outcropping of boulders, a wet area with a running stream and a hemlock grove, among others. It was rumored that there was a waterfall somewhere beyond our property. I was curious and wanted to find it. Every once in a while, I would head out on my own but never managed to go far enough before turning back. I hadn’t seen a map, so I was just wandering aimlessly while trying not to get lost. But Justin was hanging out with these other kids, and they were out exploring their surroundings.
One day, while a friend was visiting, we decided to go hiking in the woods. Justin was always happy to come along, so off we went. We soon decided to go look for the waterfall. Justin said that he knew where it was. I knew he spent a lot of time in the woods and had a good sense of direction, so we followed along. We walked and walked until finally I decided that it was getting a bit late. I knew it was time to head back. We could always look for it another time. I turned to take us back when Justin insisted that was the wrong way. I was sure we had come that way, so I started leading the way. We hadn’t brought a compass and were depending on the sun to give us our direction. I was sure that the road was to the south. We walked and walked some more. It was starting to be dusk. My friend kept wanting to take us in a different direction, but she didn’t live on the road, so I wasn’t about to listen to her. Finally, it was getting dark, and I turned to Justin saying, “Okay, if you know the way, lead us out of here.” Within five or ten minutes, we were back out on the road. I thought he’d been a good sport knowing all along that I was going the wrong way but willing to stick with me anyway. I certainly learned a few valuable lessons that day. One of them was to follow the directions of my ten-year-old son when in his woods.
My two children were as different as night and day. Their birthday months are about six months apart, so it made sense to me that they would be. Jessie is practical and detail oriented. She has a quick mind and learns easily. I have vivid memories of her and her dad watching the stock report on television with Paul cheering when the stocks were down and Jessie cheering when they were down. Paul and I figured that she needed to rebel in some way and her disdain for the hippie culture we were raising her in was her rebellion. I think Paul actually enjoyed it. But Jessie is also very much like me in many ways, which was good sometimes, but at other times we were like oil and water.
As she got older, we fought more often. We’re both judgmental and critical, though we’ve both tempered that a lot. Back then, it made things difficult. When she became an adolescent, she was incorrigible. She hated the move to Stephentown, had no friends close by and was struggling making new friends at school. She spent a lot of time in her room unless we were going on an adventure. Even then, she often declined the older she got, and our relationship was deteriorating. She had gone to the public middle school in Averill Park for sixth grade but hated it and returned to The Free School for seventh and eighth grade.
This made my life easier having both kids in the same school where I worked, and I hoped that the long car rides to and from school would ease our tensions. I often have hard conversations with my kids while driving. That way they can’t escape. One of my favorite things to do with Justin was to take off in the car with no set destination. I let him give directions as we drove. One day I asked him where he would like to go someday. He replied, “Florida.” Minutes later we passed a sign for Florida, Massachusetts. He was thrilled.
One of the great things about The Free School was that they took the kids on travels. In 1989, Justin’s class went to Puerto Rico with one of the teachers and a school parent who organized school trips to volunteer repairing hurricane damage. The class had to raise the money themselves. It was a year-long class project. Near the end, Justin didn’t want to go. His dad always a special affinity for arrangements of numbers and had planned a special “Perfect Time” party. It was to be on June 7th. He planned to have a big celebration at 01:23:45. It would be 01:23:45 on 6-7-89. Justin didn’t want to miss the party.
Our friend who was leading the trip agreed to celebrate at that exact time in Puerto Rico, and Paul promised to host another one the following year at 12:34:56 on 7-8-90. So, he agreed to go. Justin called from the island, and the whole crew whooped and hollered on the island of Vieques at the same time on the same day. Justin didn’t end up having the experience everyone had expected him to have. He had his own experience, and that’s all that ever matters. When he was young, he was never very motivated to do hard work, though that’s changed over the years. While in Vieques, the locals he worked with gave him a Spanish nickname that meant “off the wall” because whenever it was time to lift one of the walls in place, he was sitting on it. Apparently, he also slept on the concrete floor with his feet up on the cot he was given. This didn’t surprise me since I often found him like that at home.
Around that same time, Jessie went by train with her class, a teacher and a friend of ours from Rok Against Reaganomix to attend a national alternative education conference in Oregon. When she came back, she was in love. There was a school from Michigan that also traveled by train to the conference. Jessie hit it off with those kids immediately and spent a lot of time with them in Oregon. Then, they all traveled back on the same train. When she got home, she told me all about Jack. Her whole demeanor changed. Suddenly, she and I were getting along a little better. She was talking to me again. She and Jack started writing each other letters. I though it was sweet that she had a pen pal. Then one day she asked if I thought she should tell him in her next letter that she loved him. We had a long talk that night. She did end up writing that letter, and he wrote back saying that he felt the same way. This was after writing back and forth for months and just before the next conference.
This conference was in Tennessee, and I was going along. That’s when I met Jack. I also became aware that they often couldn’t be found. I started hearing whispers about friends seeing them in the woods. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I was taken by surprise. They were still quite young, but I knew I was in for it now. My daughter was headstrong, and rather than dash, Jessie closed her eyes and jumped into her adventures. Next thing I knew, they were saving money for train trips alternating visits to New York and Michigan. We had raised her to travel, and she could easily find her way.
I had the best models for parenthood in some ways. My parents were fully involved, often too involved while Paul’s parents were completely absent, leaving their children to their own devices. I think Paul referred to it once as being raised by wolves. As a result, he didn’t know how to be a father. He tried hard, but he never experienced it and didn’t understand how to do it. Both of my parents played games with us, took us to cool places giving us a life of fun and adventure. But there was a dark side, too. They struggled financially and maybe because of the stress involved, they also fought constantly. I think both of their parents probably did that, too. They fought with each other and yelled at me and my brother a lot. They believed in frequent and harsh corporal punishment to quell our spirits, though it never seemed to work.
Now I was a mom married to Paul who also came from a harsh background. I was able to resist the training in corporal punishment, but I have to admit that I did lose it and yell at my children more than I would have liked. I didn’t know any other way. My parents also never really talked to us as kids. They talked about current events and taught us things about history and science. They were more like teachers, cultivating us scholastically and socially but never looking to see who we were or how we thought. We were just supposed to fit into the box they created without question.
I was going to do things differently. I encouraged them to live their own lives and make their own decisions while staying connected and honest. I taught them to be independent. I often joked when they were arguing with me or did something impulsive asking, “Who taught you to be so damned independent anyway?” I talked with my kids about everything, and they shared their lives and experiences with me. We never had “the big talk.” Talking about sex was normal between me and the kids. Paul wasn’t comfortable talking about anything and certainly not sex. Flustered by the topics, he often walked out of the room in a hurry. But at some point, I noticed that I rarely looked into the eyes of my kids when I spoke to them. I had been so abused as a child, I never looked people in the eye. It was dangerous growing up. Once I noticed that, I tried to look at them more. It was hard for me to look into their eyes when talking about uncomfortable things, but I tried hard. I realized that they were growing up fast and didn’t want to waste any time.
When Paul had moved back in after our separation, I told him that I would probably move out when both kids were on their own. We could remain married if that’s what he wanted. I still deeply loved him, but I needed to have my own place to live where I could find peace and quiet. I knew that our time with the whole family together was going by fast, and I would have to start thinking soon about what I would do then.
General Eclectic played a lot of incredible gigs including clubs, colleges, outdoor venues, private parties, live radio and television. A bunch of people put together band trading cards that even came with a stick of gum. They included General Eclectic card and were included on another.. We even played as a duo at a campfire at the Petrified Sea Gardens in Saratoga Springs, New York. We were also scheduled to play at a warehouse in Troy that was located by the river, but it got raided before we went on. We played as a full band and in different configurations with as few as two and as many as six members. Most of these were wonderful, and some of them were nightmares. There are often memes on social media about the different crazy places or gigs that musicians play. We were forever having to fit into a small space or reconfigure something. People who don’t do gigs often don’t understand what you need. They sometimes have ridiculous expectations also. Most of the gigs are great, some better than others, but mostly they’re fun and hopefully rewarding. But as a musician, I rarely if ever say no to an offer. Just like getting through life, I’ve always figured it out. I’ve only felt ripped off a few times. I know I’ve been lucky in that regard, but I’ve played some really bizarre gigs.
We played as often as a duo with lots of fun gigs and unusual ones. We wanted to be able to play for all ages, so we learned a bunch of children’s music. It wasn’t hard since we had our own kids and sang to them all the time. We heard that Chuck E. Cheese was hiring live music. This was one of the most unique gigs I’ve done. We’d heard that they didn’t pay much and didn’t even give the musicians pizza and drinks. Radicals that we were, we decided to stage a protest with our music. They had us set up near the life-sized animated Chuck E. Cheese Elvis. Every once in a while, someone would put in a coin. Then we’d have to stop and wait for it to finish singing and gyrating, and the management refused to let us unplug it. Even without this, the whole place reverberated with the sounds of video games and screaming kids. Even the adults had to yell just to be heard. The sensory overload was intense. We sang a bunch of folk and rock songs that were appropriate for kids then did a couple of protest songs including some originals like “No Free Lunch” which was directed at the Reagan administration. The crowd was mostly into it, but a few folks didn’t like our politics and complained. Needless to say, we weren’t invited back. Very soon afterwards, they stopped hiring musicians altogether. A friend and fellow musician who specialized in kids complained to us. When we described our event and admitted that it may have influenced the decision, he laughed and thanked us. He hated that gig but didn’t really want to have to turn it down. Now he didn’t have to worry about it.
Sometimes we were invited to play at biker parties because we did a lot of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and covered other rock favorites. At every one of them, as soon as we arrived, I would be assigned a bodyguard. I’m a small person and was very shy back then. These parties were wild, and I was usually glad to have a security detail, though I only felt like I needed them once or twice. Bikers always liked our music and treated us well. One place we played with the band was at a biker bar with the best pizza in the area. However, the stage was full of holes and tilted backwards, making you feel totally off balance. It was about four feet off the ground in the front and maybe a foot in the back. We were constantly worried that someone would fall through. Another time, we played in a barn where the stage we played was barely wide enough for the drum kit. We ended up in a straight line across the front and were unable to really see each other.
We even tried working with a booking agent for a little while, but he was a disaster. He booked us into a lounge in Colonie that was looking for sixties’ music. They weren’t looking for our brand of the sixties, that’s for sure. They wanted lounge music like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We knew a few songs that worked, but the owner finally just paid us for the night and asked us to stop after one set. Another place had us in their narrow bar crammed in next to the juke box. I had to sit on one of the PA speakers. Another place put our four-piece band in the back corner of a small room opposite the juke box that folks kept wanting to put money into. One drunk guy constantly screamed at us to play Willie Nelson. We played a couple of popular Willie songs, and he didn’t recognize any of them. We finally had to agree to alternate with the juke box fifteen minutes on then fifteen minutes off. We couldn’t wait to get out of there. And there were plenty more nightmares. One of the most disappointing was at El Loco in Albany, New York, when they briefly had live music.
They were hiring well known musicians like Hot Tuna and David Bromberg. We were asked to open for Country Joe MacDonald. Paul was in awe of Country Joe. He was more excited than I’d ever seen him before about this opportunity to meet him. The day of the gig, Paul decided to roll up a big fat joint of the best stuff he could find to share with his idol. We got there early and, by start time, Country Joe still hadn’t arrived. We did our set filled with mostly our own songs and walked in the back. We didn’t realize that Country Joe had arrived just as we went on. He told us how much he liked our set, cited a couple of specific songs then offered to share the good news with us. Uh-oh, I was wary. I’d heard about this good news before from the Good News Club in Oregon. But Paul didn’t realize where this was going. He pulled out the joint and offered to smoke it with Country Joe who refused and instead handed Paul a pamphlet about the teachings of Jesus. Paul was speechless. Country Joe went on about the pitfalls of drugs and the downfall of his former band members who hadn’t yet found God. Then he did his set of all heavy-duty Christian music, pausing between songs to try to convert the crowd. Poor Paul was crestfallen. We packed up and went back home, riding in silence.
In addition to different venues, we played at a lot of parties. Paul and I hosted at least one huge party a year, often two. There were usually over a hundred people that came. I liked to count heads the next day with the help of everyone who camped. Now, I try to remember to put out a guest book. In Stephentown, we had a slightly raised stage in the back yard facing, but set back from, the firepit. Everyone was welcome as long as they followed the rules which were few and for safety reasons only. I love that I always meet at least one new person at every party I throw. Some of them end up being close friends, and some of our friends met each other at those parties and became fast friends or even lovers. They were always potluck with an amazing assortment of food. One woman from Tanzania brought a small carrot salad to a party and labeled it “HOT.” She wasn’t kidding either. I like spicy foods and could only take a tiny taste. It was delicious, though. She was the person who gave me a San Pedro cactus to grow. It is said to be the South American cousin to peyote, which I loved. I still have it but have never tried it yet. Another friend always brought and still does bring pizza. He arrives late after most of the other food is gone, sometimes even the next day, and is always a welcome sight.
Because there were so many people from so many walks of life, there was usually some kind of drama. There was always at least one fight between neighbors and, even though the electric music was turned off by eleven pm, usually the police were called. One time, I had to physically restrain one young man who was so drunk, it was a miracle he could even stand up. He kept walking over to the blazing bonfire, swaying and stumbling. One of our neighbors had recently had a party where someone fell into the fire and was severely burned, and I was determined that wouldn’t happen at mine. After warning him too many times, I finally put a chair behind him, pushed him into it and threatened to tie him to it, if he didn’t stay put. Then, I assigned someone to watch. I’ve often said, “I may be little and quiet, but you don’t want to mess with me.”
Justin and his friends loved to torment the drunks. It was even more fun for them if someone was tripping. Unfortunately, some of the men egged them on. I guess they were reliving their childhoods, but for me it was stressful. At one party, he and his friend Bruce were playing a game of jumping out of the dark bushes brandishing water guns and freaking people out. I was singing on stage at the time when someone ran up and told me that the cops wanted to talk to me right away. When I went out front, they had these two scared looking boys. The other boy was my friend Caroline’s son. These two were constantly making trouble together. Apparently, they had jumped out at the cops with the water guns thinking it would be funny. The cops, having drawn their guns, didn’t find it funny at all, neither did we. They threatened to shut down the party, but once again I was able to talk my way out of it. It wasn’t the first or last time that both Caroline and I screamed at these two. I guess the police saw that the issue was being dealt with appropriately.
I’ve always loved the day after the parties. Often, we’d have campers who woke up early, or never went to bed at all, and stoked up the fire outside. Then, I’d make pancakes and coffee, and we’d sit outside playing more music as everyone eventually wandered off home. I saw many sunrises in those days. It’s always been hard for me to leave a party, especially if there’s jamming going on. I think that jamming is the best way to keep growing musically. I understand the difference between practicing and jamming and know that both are equally important. Nowadays, I make myself visit at parties before launching into the music. I realized that I never socialized, and once I start playing music, that’s usually where I’ll stay.
In the 1980s, there were always Halloween parties with a band jammed into someone’s living room. The costumes at these parties were so creative. One guy came with blown up rubber gloves attached all over his body. He was a “hand job.” Paul and I worked hard on our costumes every year. One year, he decided to be a punk and had me gel his long hair up into a spike. I had to use a cardboard cone to hold it up. It was so tall, he had to lay down in the back of the station wagon to get to the party. Another year, he went as a Pancho Villa character with an ammunition belt across his chest filled with joints. Then, he hit on a theme of being a businessman every year. He dressed as a nun in a business suit and was a “nun of your business.” He even shaved for that costume. That year, I was the night sky. One time, he had me sew a tennis ball encased in layers of nylon stocking onto the outside of his suit pants and went as “E.T. the Extra Testicle (the businessman with more balls). He had a briefcase with an enormous screw inside and threatened to “screw” everyone over. His costumes often involved a pun. Mine were elaborate but a little more sedate, though not always. I was a nuclear family with extra arms and legs and a hideous face attached to my head. I was also a Japanese Beatle. I wore a kimono and put my long hair up in a bun with chopsticks sticking through. I wore an old wire cage without the bottom that rested on my shoulders. Pictures of each of the Beatles were on the four sides. I miss those days of endless parties. It seems as though many of my friends have gotten old before their time while I refuse to let myself be old in that way.
Now that Paul and I were reunited, we focused even more on our music. We had always written songs together, and I had missed that in addition to missing him. We both had gained a different perspective having had the time to think about our music as individuals for the first time since we had been together. We were each writing more songs than ever now, both together and alone, and were playing with a wide variety of people. We played in most of the local clubs, Bogies, 288 Lark, Pauly’s Hotel, Quintessence, QE2, Putting on the Ritz, and many others. We also still played at coffee houses and cafes as a duo. We played at all of the Rok Against Reganomix concerts, and some of the colleges, Union College, Hudson Valley Community College and RPI. We sometimes played live on WRPI and did the “Readings Against the End of the World” organized by Tom Nattell. We also played many of the local demonstrations and often wrote a song for that particular event. We were riding high. But we couldn’t seem to maintain keeping a band together. Although we had a core group, like many other bands, we went through bass players and drummers pretty frequently.
I had always wanted to have a keyboard player in the band. I studied classical piano for many years and could sight read quite well but wasn’t a jammer on piano. I now owned a Casio keyboard and was learning how to program it to have the sounds I wanted. However, my early piano lessons were very rigid. My teachers believed that there was only one way to play, and that was to play the notes on the page the way they were written. So, the one thing I never learned was how to improvise. Although I tried to teach myself this important skill, I never quite got the improvement I would have liked. I could teach my young students how to do it, but I couldn’t seem to let go of that classical training myself. We liked the keyboard addition but decided that we needed to find a real keyboard player.
One day, as I was working at the school, an interesting looking couple walked in.
I have always believed in putting what I need out to the universe. I recognize there’s a difference between what I want and what I need. I had been successful with this technique in the past, including having found a rehearsal space when we needed one. Having a keyboard player felt like a need, so I stood outside and asked for it out loud. A few days later, as I was working at The Free School in Albany, an interesting looking couple came in with two girls to visit the school. I took one look at the man, walked up and asked, “Are you a musician?” It turned out that he was. Then I asked if he played the keyboard. Again, the answer was yes. Now, once again, we had all of the pieces we needed to be a full band. I invited him to jam with us, and he soon became one of the core members of General Eclectic. We now had a rhythm guitar, lead guitar, keys, bass, drums, percussion and four of us could do vocals.
We soon found out that Bob not only played the keyboard but also played guitar, sang and wrote songs. He also knew the difference between playing and practicing. Before he joined us, I was always the one that kept us on track, insisting that we pay attention to detail, rehearsing certain sections until we got them right rather than just jamming endlessly. Because I had been a classical musician, I knew the value in real practice. I never have any trouble going over just one line or even one measure until it’s up to par. Paul was not interested in practice. To him, it was only about having fun. He felt that practice took the fun out of it. Andy also was looking for fun. I liked having fun, but I also saw that we were sloppy and was trying in vain to tighten us up. Now, I had a comrade who believed in the same thing. Bob and I took turns whipping the band into shape. This was great for me because I was no longer the only bad guy in the band.
Bob and I also tended to click in other ways musically. We had similar ideas about harmonies and arrangements. We also wrote a few songs together. I remember one night when he came up to the trailer and mentioned a piece of music he had been working on. As he played it, I grabbed a pen and paper and started writing. Almost instantly I had the melody and lyrics for “Slow Turn.” His music spoke to me and my contribution came pouring out. It’s always a rare gift when you find another musician who is on the same wavelength musically.
Unfortunately, there was now a growing tension in the band. Paul and Andy were getting more vocal but also being passive aggressive about the direction our rehearsals were going in. There was a growing tension between Bob and Paul and between Bob and Andy, our lead guitar player, and between me and Paul. In addition to Bob being a taskmaster, he also wanted to be playing guitar. He had joined the band as a keyboard player but loved the guitar more. I think Andy felt a little resentful. Paul and I thought there was room for both. They each had a different style of playing. Andy played like Jerry Garcia, which was great for some of what we did, but we played such a wide variety, sometimes the songs called for a different style. With Bob playing guitar in the band, we covered some Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. We also started writing differently to accommodate this additional sound. It was encouraging us to grow which we both always saw as good thing. I think our biggest hurdle to getting gigs was that we couldn’t be pigeon-holed. It was impossible to fit us into a niche, hence the name “General Eclectic.”
We soon started hanging out with Bob, his partner Cindy, her two girls and their group of friends, thus expanding our circle even more. For us, our band was like a family. They had just moved to Albany and eventually moved into a large old mansion in the south end with another couple. Soon more of their friends relocated nearby. We made lots of new friends and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There were lots of parties where we played music all night long, often tripping and solidifying those musical and personal bonds. And there were more gigs as well. Life was good, but the tensions in the band never really went away, and Paul and I were back to fighting in earnest.
We got back together because I had given in. He never did agree to counseling and just went back to his old ways of ignoring the kids and blaming me for everything that went wrong. I think he resented staying in one place and really wanted to hit the road. He loved being a gypsy. I did too, but we had made a commitment to the kids that we would stay put for their sake. I didn’t regret it at all and thrived in upstate New York. I never imagined myself as a teacher, but now I had a career that I loved. I also loved being close to many major cities. There were so many opportunities here that hadn’t been available to us before. We were still working with the Rok Against Reganomix committee and a couple of us from that committee took over the People’s Pinxster Festival. This historical festival had been co-opted by the city and turned into the Tulip Festival. It had lost most of the historical significance, and we were tasked with trying to keep it as true to its origins as possible. We were also regulars now at the Half Moon Café. It felt like I was finally home. But Paul was working as a cook, jumping from one lousy job to another, never settling into a routine. He couldn’t seem to figure out where or what his destiny was supposed to be. He kept searching for that dream that leads us to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side.
We played almost every club in Albany, but The Half Moon Café was our home base. It was owned by a man who lived in Ithaca and ran another café there. He had given over the running of the Half Moon to a collective of people who were young and mostly in the punk scene. Unfortunately, none of them understood business and almost ran it into the ground. The rumor was that there were back taxes that hadn’t been paid in years, so Richard came back and threw them out. I had no idea what was going on, so I went in to introduce myself to him during his first week back. Although I can’t seem to hide the fact that I’m a hippie, no matter how I try to disguise myself, I must look pretty responsible because people often confide in me. The first time that I met Richard, he told me about all the troubles he was having with the folks who had been in charge. He told me that he’d also heard some pretty disturbing stories about some of the shows and other events held there. I admitted that some of the shows were pretty wild. “I heard rumors,” he said, “about a couple of acid tests that were held here.” I looked shocked and said in disbelief, “No!” I wasn’t about to tell him that we had organized those shows. Although I felt bad at the time, we had a huge following there now, and I didn’t want to lose that. It wasn’t unusual for us to have a full house plus a crowd out on the sidewalk and in the parking lot next door. Richard soon came to know and like Paul and our kids, and we continued gigging there.
Not long after that, we lost another bass player. We seemed to go through drummers and bass players like changing socks. They were always looking for a better gig. I couldn’t blame them, but it was frustrating. We had a band meeting and the guys decided that, instead of teaching someone new our songs, they would take turns playing the bass. The band bought an electric bass, and we had a whole new sound … again. It was a little odd because they all played the bass differently. Andy played it like a lead guitar, Paul played notes based on a chord, often playing partial chords. Bob played the closest to a real bass sound than each of them and was frustrated with their ignorance of the instrument. Now, we were back to having only one lead instrument again. I felt more comfortable playing percussion and doing my vocals, but sometimes we needed that solid background sound of the keys. So, I went back to playing rudimentary keyboard occasionally. I could always play chords and understood theory, but try as I might, I still couldn’t shake that rigid classical training.
My rocky relationship with Paul was starting to affect the band now. We often bickered at practice, creating a cloud of tension in the air. Richard noticed it at a Half Moon gig one night and offered us free tickets to a Dutch Apple Cruise he had organized for the café. He wanted us to have a romantic evening. That night, we fought all the way into town and upon arriving on the boat, we each went our separate ways. So much for our romantic evening. I stood by the rail watching the river flow past as Paul went to the bar. Pretty soon, he came walking over with a tall man in tow. “Hey Deb,” he said chuckling, “I want you to meet my long-lost brother Dick Kavanaugh.” They had met in the bar, and Paul was intrigued with the similarities in their names. We chatted a bit, then Paul went back to the bar, leaving me and Dick to enjoy the rest of the trip together. I remarked that this was the second time he was pointed out to me. My first friend in the area, Linda, had told me that I should meet Dick Kavanaugh because she thought we would really get along. And we did. We spent that time getting to know each other, and the time flew by. At the end of that cruise, we parted ways, and I didn’t see him again for years. Many years later, Dick confessed to me that he moved out of town after that because he’d always had a crush on me, sitting in the back of the café during our shows, never daring to speak to me because he knew I was married. We had even talked about my marriage on that cruise. I’d admitted that I was unhappy but was committed to trying to make it work. Now that Paul had thrown us together, and he’d actually spent time with me and knew how miserable I was, he couldn’t stand to be around the two of us together, so he chased after a different woman and moved to Massachusetts.
We played at The Half Moon Café at least once a month and attracted as eclectic a crowd as the music we played. They came from all walks of life and were all ages.One teenager loved to sketch while listening to our shows. We always played for tips at the café, so he made us a sign on the back of a Motley Crüe album cover, for our tip jar. I've since lost the bottom that read "Donations Requested." We always thought that we would use it for an album cover, but that album never got made during Paul's lifetime. Another night, during one of our breaks, a woman came up and introduced herself. She was Caroline Johnston who later became known as "Mother Judge." She was a musician and songwriter who had just relocated, being originally from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. She was also a single mom with two children. Her son was my son’s age, and they eventually met at The Museum Club, an afterschool program held at the New York State Museum. Justin and Bruce became fast friends and got in plenty of trouble together. Caroline’s daughter was younger than Jessie, and unfortunately, they didn’t hit it off. She later told me that she had just arrived in town when she showed up our gig, and we were among the first three people she met here. We met lots of other great musicians at The Half Moon, too. Some of them also became regulars and became our friends.
We had done a lot of work over the summer trying to make the trailer livable, but there was still a long way to go when Paul moved out. I was also facing being a single mom of two for the first time. Although, I had done most of the caretaking for our children, I was always able to count on Paul for certain things. He was always happy to stay with the kids if I wanted to do something on my own. When they were young, we traded off with baths and the bedtime routine, telling them stories and singing lullabies. The kids loved Paul's stories about Bluto who got into all kinds of funny misadventures. When our babies were first born, he often got up with them in the middle of the night, changing their diapers and bringing them to me to be nursed as I recuperated from the births. And, at the end of the day, when they were both in bed, he was my companion, my lover and my friend. Now, I was still in love with him but living on my own forty-five minutes from Albany, where all of our friends were still living and where Justin and I were still at The Free School, hoping that he would figure out how to curb his anger so that we could be a happy couple. I knew being separated would be difficult, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. I also didn’t expect some of our friends to turn against me.
Shortly after Paul moved out, I started getting calls from some of the men we were friends with accusing me of ruining Paul’s life. They accused me of having an affair with our bass player who lived nearby. John was my only friend in the immediate area. He was much younger than me, and I had no romantic interest in him at all. We just had a lot of fun together. No one seemed to understand this. They also accused me of taking Paul's family away from him. they only saw him as when a really nice guy. I tried to explain that I didn’t take anything away from him. He was choosing not to see his children, and I would be happy to try to reconcile. None of that seemed to matter to them. They were witnessing him getting drunk every night, sometimes barely able to make it home and felt his pain. I soon found out that he had started doing other drugs like cocaine. There was plenty of money to spend on it, and he seemed to have forgotten about all of the plans we’d made. He wanted to become a lawyer and now had enough money to pay for law school. But he was throwing that all away, and I was being blamed for it. He refused to see his kids, and I was being blamed for that as well. He was miserable, and it was all my fault. No matter how much I tried to reason with these so-called friends, it didn’t make any difference. I had become the bad guy. I didn’t want to air our dirty laundry in public, revealing all of the yelling that the kids and I had to deal with. I didn’t want to tell them about the things that got thrown at the walls in anger, the blaming, the jealousy and more. I didn’t want to tell them about Paul hitting me while I was driving the car. I finally just stopped trying to get through to them. I wasn’t interested in making Paul look bad, but I also didn’t care what anyone thought about me at that point. I was busy just trying to survive.
I’ve always seemed to have unusual experiences. Some of them are funny and fun, some are awesome, and others are horrible. They always seem to come in groups, too. I rarely have one major thing happen at a time. I feel like I was cursed by what is often referred to as the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I know it seems innocuous at first glance until you really think about it. Although life has certainly been interesting, it’s also felt unbearable at times. As I look back over the years, I sometimes wonder how I ever survived it all. I do know that adrenaline was often my friend.
It was now 1986. We’d been in Albany for four years and had a successful band. Although we were separated, we were trying to keep the band together with regular band practices in Albany. We always played beautiful music together. Jessie was now old enough to stay home in the evenings with Justin, so once a week after feeding them dinner, I drove back into Albany for band practice. One evening, as I was packing up the car with my equipment, our cat jumped on the snow laden hatchback driving it down onto my head with such an impact that it knocked me on the ground leaving me stunned. I sat in the driveway until my head stopped spinning then got up and started unloading the car, pausing to vomit and finally recruiting the kids to help. When I called to say I wouldn't make it to practice, Paul was furious. He wanted to arrange for our bass player John, to give me a ride. I was still seeing stars and refused. I also called in sick to work the next day, a Friday, keeping Justin home with me. I went to the doctor then rested through Friday and Saturday, starting to feel much better by Sunday morning. On Sunday evening, our pipes froze leaving us with no water. In addition to the gaps that had been left in the skirting around the bottom of the trailer, there was no easy access except to remove a section, so I pried off one of the pieces of plywood, crawled underneath and tried applying heat to the pipes with my hairdryer. They appeared to be frozen solid despite having left the tap running and wrapping the pipes with heat tape. I made a few phone calls and finally found someone who agreed to come the next day. I knew we could do without water for the rest of the day.
Jessie had started public school in Averill Park that year. Justin and I were still at The Free School. I probably shouldn’t have gone back to work so soon after my concussion, but I didn’t want to keep Justin home from school another day. He was already struggling with being away from his dad and needed to be with his friends and teachers. I knew that I couldn’t drive the forty-five minutes there, another forty-five minutes back home to rest then do it again to pick him up, so the next morning I went in to work. I checked in with the guys who were going to repair the pipes, and they assured me I didn’t need to be there as long as I left the door unlocked or left a key. I was usually home by four in the afternoon except on Mondays. Monday was the day for teachers’ meetings at the school. Attendance was required for all teachers except for an emergency. They always lasted until six pm, and sometimes went even longer but that day, they let me leave early. Jessie got home from school earlier and waited at home for us to arrive.
After a long day at work and a tedious meeting, I made the drive home with my head pounding and feeling slightly nauseous. When I walked in the door, I found Jessie standing ankle deep in water, crying and moving a dripping blanket from one spot to another in a futile attempt to soak up all of this water. Apparently, the tap in the bathroom sink had been left on according to the directions given by the repairmen, but the stopper was in the drain. The pipes had been unthawed in the morning, and the water had been running all day until Jessie came home, waded through the water and turned it off.
In spite of my throbbing head, I leapt into action. Poor Jessie was beside herself, so I first tried to calm her down assuring her that she’d done a great job and apologizing for not being there. At eleven years old, she had done the best she could. She’d used every towel and blanket in the house to try to sop up the flood, throwing them in the dryer when they wouldn’t hold any more. Unfortunately, she hadn’t spun them in the washer first, and the dryer was just sloshing the water around. I wasn’t sure where to start. We hadn’t had any dinner, and it was getting late. I decided to call for help. My mom and dad lived about twenty minutes away and had a shop vac, so I tried them first. When my mother heard the story, her response was, “Well, you got yourself into this mess by marrying Paul. Where is he now?” Once again, I asked if she would please come bring the shop vac and maybe pick up a pizza for the kids. She didn’t have to stay. She could just drop them off. She replied that they were watching their favorite TV show and that I could come get it myself. Then, I asked if the kids could stay there for the night, but it wasn’t a good night for that. She was tired. As I listened to her in disbelief, I saw Justin, standing in the lake that was once our living room, plug in our vacuum cleaner and reach to turn it on. I screamed, “Stop!” and hung up the phone. A minute later, the heat came on with the forced air creating geysers out of the floor vents. This was too much. Now I started to cry. I couldn’t afford to cry for long however and quickly rustled up some food for our late and hasty dinner. I needed to think.
The mobile home we lived in had two bathrooms. The one near the living room was the one that had flooded first. The water had been seeping into the heating ducts that ran under the floor eventually filling up the rest of the trailer. I was still trying to figure out how to deal with all of this water when Jessie screamed from the other bathroom that the toilet was overflowing, pouring sewage into the existing flood. I found out later that now the sewer pipes were frozen causing a backlog. I decided to open the backdoor, directly across from that bathroom and start shoveling water out the door in a frantic effort to contain the problem as quickly as possible. The door wouldn’t budge. I instructed the kids to stay off of the floor and ran outside around the back to see what the problem was. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was an ice floe about eight inches thick covering the back door almost to the ground. I went at it with a hammer and chisel, trying to break it apart but got nowhere. I went back inside and called Paul.
It took him a while to answer but when he finally did, I explained the situation and told him that I needed his help, trying to keep my volume tempered and the hysteria out of my voice. But I was feeling desperate. I knew he didn’t have a car but also knew that he could get a ride or borrow a car from one of his friends. He kept insisting that he couldn’t come and finally said, “This is what you wanted, to be single. Now you'll just have to deal with it.” Once again, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Who were these people that were supposed to be part of my family? At that point, my voice got quiet and hard. I reminded him that he had helped make our children and was equally responsible for the current situation. I also told him that if he ever had any hope of getting back together, or even remaining friends, he had better figure out how to get himself up here to help as quickly as possible. Everyone in my family knows that tone of voice and always takes me seriously when they hear it. This was no exception. His friend dropped him off in a little over an hour with a shop vac and a torch, helping me clean up this unbelievable mess. Luckily, the kids’ bedrooms had been unaffected by the sewage, and their beds were dry, so they slept while we worked for most of the night. We had bookshelves along one wall with our books and albums on them. We noticed that the walls were sweating due to the humidity causing those items to get wet. Now we were laying these wet things out to dry on whatever dry surfaces we could find. Finally, we were finished and, at around four in the morning, both plopped down on the couch. Sploosh! The couch, an old bedframe with a foam mattress and foam bolsters on the back, had also been pressing against the wall and had acted like a sponge. We looked at each other and laughed until we cried. What else could we do?
These traumatic events defined my life as a mother. They certainly weren’t the only defining moments, but they played an enormous role in my ability to cope unemotionally with disasters and to find the humor in everything. I felt as though, if I didn’t laugh, I might never stop crying. Even today, I recognize that disasters always teach me lessons, often teaching me something about myself, and offer me opportunities. Shortly after Paul and I were separated, Justin started having a tantrum almost every night after dinner. He just wanted to see his dad. He was thrilled when he woke up the next morning, and Paul was there. I wasn’t willing to give in yet, though. I wanted our marriage to work and that meant less fighting. I knew that wouldn’t happen without some profound changes and stood my ground about insisting on marriage counseling, so Paul went back to his apartment in Albany. Then Justin’s tantrums got really bad. I often had to restrain him so that he wouldn’t break windows or punch holes in the walls. These would often go on for well over an hour. One day, I finally had enough.
I told Justin that I was going to let go of him and would bring him to his dad if he promised to calm down. Still sobbing, he agreed. Once again, I called Paul. He explained that he couldn’t have Justin that night because he’d already been drinking and was in no shape to be a parent. I didn’t care. Enough was enough. He was also their parent, and Justin needed him. I told him that he’d better start sobering up because I was coming into town with Justin and would drop him off on the front porch if Paul wasn’t home. Then I hung up, packed a bag for Justin and drove to Albany. Paul was waiting for us on the porch. As soon as the car stopped, Justin raced out of the car and into his dad’s arms. Paul was still trying to convince me that he wasn’t up for having him overnight, but I kissed Justin goodbye, got back in the car and drove home. After that, Justin spent every Monday night with Paul. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. We were separated for about nine months when I finally relented and agreed to try again. We had burned through the inheritance and were running out of money. I didn’t know how we would continue to support two households and also knew that I couldn’t survive on my own with two kids. I could see that Paul also missed us. He'd straightened up, gotten a job and seemed to have mellowed. He promised changes, and I believed him. It was spring, a time of love, and I still loved Paul deeply.